TREES, VINES, AND GEOMETRIC KNOTS

There is a group of similar icon types utilizing figures set in the framework of a tree or vine or twining foliage, or else the same transformed into a geometric knot.  Yet all are different types, and one must learn not to confuse them.

The first type is called in Greek  Η Ριζα Του Ιεσσαι — He Riza Tou Iessai — “The Root of Jesse.”  It is based on Isaiah 11:1, regarded by Eastern Orthodox as a prediction of the birth of Jesus:

And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots: 2 And the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord; 3 And shall make him of quick understanding in the fear of the Lord: and he shall not judge after the sight of his eyes, neither reprove after the hearing of his ears.

This relates to the icon in that Jesse (father of King David) is the biblical ancestor of Jesus, and the type depicts a tree growing out of Jesse with other forefathers of Jesus (like a genealogical family tree) depicted in the branches.  And of course the focus of the tree is Jesus.  He is sometimes shown in maturity, sometimes as a child with his mother Mary.  You may recall the basic tree growing out of Jesse as a secondary image in some examples of the “Unburnt Thornbush” icon of Mary.

Here is a Russian example of the elaborate type, known as Древо Иессеево — Drevo Iesseevo — “The Tree of Jesse.” The second type in this category is called Άνωθεν οι Προφήτες –“On High the Prophets” in Greek.  It is taken from a Marian hymn by Ioannes Koukouzelis, chanted during Orthros at the vesting of the Bishop:

”Άνωθεν οι Προφήται σε προκατήγγειλαν.Στάμνον,ράβδον,πλάκα,κιβω­τόν,λυχνίαν, τράπεζαν.Όρος αλατόμητον,χρυσούν θυμιατήριον,πύλην αδιόδευτον και θρόνον Του Βασιλέως προκατήγγειλαν οι Προφήται.Σε προκατήγγειλαν άνωθεν οι Προφήται.”

“Of old [lit. ‘On high’], the prophets earlier proclaimed you, the Jar of Manna, the Rod of Aaron, the Tablet, the Lampstand, the Ark, the Table, the Mountain Unhewn, the Golden Censer, the Gate Impassible, and the Throne of the King. you did the Prophets proclaim of old.”

The painter’s manual of Dionysios of Fourna describes it as having “The Holy Virgin, seated on a throne and carrying the infant Christ…all around the prophets are arranged.”  The Patriarch Jacob holds his ladder, Moses has a bush, Aaron a budding staff, Gideon a fleece, David a shrine, Solomon a bed (or temple), Isaiah a spoon (or tongs), Jeremiah an image of the Virgin, Ezekiel a door, Daniel a mountain, Habbakuk a shady mountain, Zechariah a seven-branched lamp,

The Russian equivalent of the “Prophets from On High” type is a variable image generally called Похвала Пресвятыя Богородицы  Pokhvala Presvyatuiya Bogoroditsui — “The Praise of the Most Holy Mother of God.”  Here is an example:

Τhe third type is called Η ΑΜΠΕΛΟC — He Ampelos  in Greek — “The Vine.” (Byzantine and Christian Museum, Athens) It depicts Jesus sitting near the top of a many-branched grape vine, and around him in the branches are Twelve Apostles.     It takes its name from John 15:5, and in fact that is the text generally shown in the open Gospels held by Jesus in examples of this type:

Εγω ειμι η αμπελος υμεις τα κληματα ο μενων εν εμοι καγω εν αυτω ουτος φερει καρπον πολυν οτι χωρις εμου ου δυνασθε ποιειν ουδεν

I am the vine, you the branches: He that abides in me, and I in him, the same bears much fruit: for without me you can do nothing.”

And finally we have the rather uncommon Russian icon type favored by Old Believers, Союз любви  — Soiuz Liubvi — the  “Union of Love.” It depicts Jesus in the center (or sometimes the Crucifixion, sometimes a simple Deisis), of a diamond shape formed by part of a complex knot, with twelve Apostles in the other segments of it.  In the four segments outside the diamond, the Four Evangelists are depicted in symbolic form:  Matthew as a winged man, Mark as an eagle, John as a winged lion, and Luke as a winged ox.  The type also relates to John 15 (see the end of this posting).  While some versions use the knot as the framework, other examples replace it with twining vegetation.

The name is found in the Ode 5. Irmos from Great Thursday, the Footwashing Ceremony:

Союзом любве связуеми апостоли Владычествующему всеми себе Христу возложше красны ноги очищаху благовествующе мир/

United with the bonds of love, the Apostles offered themselves to Christ the Master of all things; when their beautiful feet had been washed clean they bring good tidings of peace to all.’

This does not begin to exhaust icon types featuring trees or vines, but these are the main types that utilize multiple figures in a tree, vine, or geometric configuration.  A simpler vine-related type is the Eucharistic icon popular in Romania and called Iisus Hristos – Viţa-de-vie — “Jesus Christ the Grapevine,” also known as the “Mystic Winepress,” but I will save that for another day and another discussion.

To finish, here is the greater part of the relevant text from the Gospel attributed to John that forms the basis for such types as “The Vine” and “The Union of Love.”

15 I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman.

2 Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit.

3 Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you.

4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me.

5 I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.

6 If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.

7 If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.

8 Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples.

9 As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love.

10 If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love.

11 These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.

12 This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you.

13 Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.

14 Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you.

15 Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you.

16 Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you.

17 These things I command you, that ye love one another.

STANDING OR KNEELING: THE TWO “PECHERSKAYA” TYPES

Kiyev in the modern Ukraine was the center of the old Kievan state of Rus, and a focal point for the promulgation of Eastern Orthodoxy in medieval times.  Kiyev (Kiev) was also the site of a major monastic community founded in the 11th century,  the Monastery of the Caves, the Pecherskaya Lavra. It was a center of both piety and fanaticism, and a number of its inhabitants were later declared to be saints.

The two most noted figures associated with the Pecherskaya Lavra are the monks Antoniy and Feodosiy.  Antoniy, born in Chernigov, went to Mt. Athos in Greece and became a monk there.  He was sent back to Kievan Rus to help in the conversion of its people to Eastern Orthodoxy.  Instead of joining any of the existing Greek monasteries, he instead decided to live in a cave dug in the side of a hill.  There he became noted for his ascetic lifestyle, and others joined him, among them Feodosiy, who had come from his home in Kursk.   As the community grew, Antoniy moved to a new cave not not far away, while Feodosiy remained in the old location.  In both locations, the number of monks increased, living in the so-called coenobitic manner. Today’s icon had its origin in the Kievan Pecherskaya Lavra.    It is called the Pecherskaya-Svenskaya:

(Tretyakov Gallery)

(Tretyakov Gallery)

The origin story of the icon relates that it was painted by St. Antoniy, who is said to have learned icon painting from Byzantine artists working in the church at Kiyev.

In it we see Mary enthroned and holding her son at center.  At left is St. Antoniy (Anthony) and at right St. Feodosiy (Theodosios)  Each holds a scroll.   The scroll of Antoniy often reads:

Молю убо вы, чада, держимся воздержания и не ленимся. Имамы в сем Господа помощника
Moliu ubo vui, chada, dershimsya vozderzhaniya i ne lenimsya.  Imamui v sem Gospoda pomoshchnika
“I pray you therefore, children, hold to abstinence and do not be lazy, you shall have in all the help of the Lord.”

The scroll of Feodosiy often begins:

Владыко Господи Боже Вседержителю, tворче всея твари видимых и невидимых,…
Vladuiko Gospodi Bozhe Vsederzhiteliu, tvorche vseya tvari vidimuikh i nevidimuikh…
“Ruler Lord God Almighty, maker of all things visible and invisible —

Be aware, however, that other inscriptions are sometimes used on the scrolls of the two saints in the Svenskaya type.

Now, to confuse matters, there is another “Pecherskaya” icon type that also shows Antoniy and Feodosiy, but in this case the two saints are kneeling before the enthroned Mary and Jesus, one saint on each side, usually holding prayer ropes instead of scrolls.

If you have been reading this site carefully (you have, haven’t you?), then you should be able to read the title of the icon, and you should be able to tell whether it is an Old Believer or a State Church icon.

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

The title of the image is: ПЕЧЕРСКИЯ ПРЕС[ВЯ]ТЫЯ Б[ОГОРО]ДИЦЫ — Pecherskiya Presvyatuiya Bogoroditsui, “[The] Pecherskiya Most Holy Mother of God.”  The title is usually given in its Russian form, Pecherskaya, in icon books and other literature.

So there are two major variants of the Pecherskaya type:

  1. In the “standing” type — the Pecherskaya ‘Svenskaya’ type — (also called Свенская-Печерская — Svenskaya-Pecherskaya and Kievo-Pecherskaya)  Antoniy and Feodosiy stand, holding scrolls, at each side of Mary, who is seated on a throne, the Christ Child on her lap  Mary’s hands are on her child. Some examples add two angels (though they more properly belong to the second type), some do not.
  2. In the regular Pecherskaya type, Antoniy and Feodosiy kneel at the sides of the enthroned Mary with her child, usually holding prayer ropes, and two attending angels often stand at the sides of Mary enthroned, though sometimes the angels are omitted.  In this type the hands of Mary rest on the shoulders of Antoniy and Feodosiy.

The “kneeling” type of Pecherskaya icon was very popular in the Ukraine, and there it is often found painted in the folk manner.  In the example shown here, it is of course painted in the Westernized manner, and therefore would be a State Church and not an Old Believer icon.

Please be aware that it is common to find these two icon types confused, with some mistakenly calling the “kneeling” Pecherskaya icon type the “Svenskaya-Pecherskaya.”  The confusion arises because both have the same saints, Antoniy and Feodosiy, both have Mary seated with her child, and both have the “Pecherskaya” name, though the added word “Svenskaya” properly qualifies and distinguishes the “standing” type.

The student of icons should also be aware that there are some icons — far less common — that combine the basic image of either of the two types listed above with two or more additional saints; in such versions, Antoniy and Feodosiy may either stand holding scrolls or kneel with prayer ropes.  Because of the additional saints from the Pecherskaya Lavra pictured with them, such an icon is generally referred to as the “Pecherskaya with Kievo-Pecherskaya Wonderworkers,”

Now perhaps you are left wondering, as one reader did, why the first type is called not just “Pecherskaya,” but also “Svenskaya.”  Where did the “Svensk-” part come from?

Well, the traditional story told about this icon tells us.  It is said that Prince Roman Mikhailovich of Chernigov lost his sight. He had heard of miracles done by the icon of Mary at the Pecherskaya Lavra, so he sent a messenger to ask that the icon might be brought to him in Bryansk, in hope of a cure. The Archimandrite of the Lavra sent the icon, in care of a priest, who travelled on the Desna River. During the journey, the boat carrying the icon stopped suddenly. Those traveling in the boat decided to then spend the night on the Svin River, and the boat began moving again. So they went on shore and stayed for the night on the Svin River, which means “Swine River,” a few miles from Bryansk. When morning came they went to the boat to pray before the icon, but it was gone. The searched for it, and climbed a nearby mountain. There they found the icon in the branches of an oak tree (you will recall that this “icon in a tree motif” is found in other such origin stories.

This was seen as a miracle, and when Prince Roman Mikhailovich was notified that the icon had stopped there, he travelled to the place where the icon was found in the tree.

Prince Roman prayed before the icon and his eyes began to be healed, so the tale goes, but only partly; so he prayed again, and his vision was said to have gotten better. So a prayer service was held before the icon. Then the Prince had the trees in that place cut down, and used them to build a church in honor of the Dormition of Mary. The oak in which the icon was found was cut down also, and from its boards other icons were made for the church, as well as other church objects.  Eventually a monastery was built there.  The icon is said to have been kept at this monastery since 1288.

But what about the “Svenskaya” name of the icon?  Well, as we have seen, the icon was said to have gone of its own volition to an oak tree on a hill above the Svin River, and a monastery was  later erected there too.  You will recall that icons deciding themselves where they will be and going there of their own volition is also a common motif in these old stories.

Now they could hardly call the monastery  built on the site the “Monastery of Swine,” after the name of the Svin River, nor could they call the icon that manifested its will there the “Most Holy Mother of God of Swine,” so they did a euphemistic change to the name, calling it “Svenskaya” instead of “Svinskaya,” — “…of Svensk” instead of “…of Swine.”

So that is the story. The “Svenskaya” name comes from the Svin River.  And that is the second name of the “standing” Pecherskaya type as well as the name of the Svenskaya Monastery built there.

 

 

 

 

 

BORROWED ANGEL: A BULGARIAN FRESCO

The Rila Monastery is the most noted monastic center in Bulgaria.  It burned in 1833, but was then rebuilt between 1834 and 1862.  Its delightfully colorful frescos were completed in 1846.

Here is an interesting example: The inscription (you should be able to read the first three words if you have been following this blog) says, “Holy Archangel Michael Torments the Soul of the Rich Man.” On the image the spelling varies slightly, but we can read it as  С. Архангел Михаил мучит душу богатого — Svyatuiy Arkhangel Mikhail muchit dushu bogatogo.

Michael looks rather glorious in his flowing pastel garments.  But that he is in this scene at all is a bit odd, and it becomes even stranger when we take a look at an earlier painting (c. 1630s) by the Italian Catholic artist Guido Reni:

The main image of Michael in the Bulgarian fresco is obviously ultimately  derived from the earlier image by Reni.  Michael has been given some slight “Orthodox” touches and is simplified in painting technique, but it is the same form overall.

The Reni painting is loosely based on Revelation 12: 7-9 etc.:

7 “And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels,

8 And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven.

9 And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, who deceives the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.”

But in the Rila fresco, the fallen Satan and the Revelation reference is gone, and in their place is the dying Rich Man of the parable in Luke 12: 16:

And he [Jesus]  spoke a parable to them, saying, The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully:

17 And he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do, because I have no room in which to bestow my fruits?

18 And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods.

19 And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have much goods laid up for many years; take your ease, eat, drink, and be merry.

20 But God said to him, You fool, this night your soul shall be required of you: then whose shall those things be, which you have provided?

21 So is he that lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.”

Where in Reni’s painting, Michael holds chains in his right hand, in the Rila fresco they are replaced by the little soul of the Rich Man, a half-naked figure clothed only in a loincloth. Michael holds the little soul by its hair.  And though Reni’s Michael has bare legs, the Rila example gives him rosy leggings, called ноговицы — nogovitsui in Russia.

And of course the entire background is different:  gone are the rocks and flames of the Reni painting, replaced by buildings and the Rich Man’s mourners and demons, one of whom holds a bag of money in one hand and a little scroll in the other, with the text “You are mine, O covetous one.”

An engraving mixing the Reni image of Michael with elements found in the Rila fresco was published in Venice in 1811.  Such engravings were a common means by which Western European religious art was transmitted to the Orthodox countries of the East, to Russia, the Balkans, and Greece.

There were also engravings of the subject from Mt. Athos as early as 1807, with an inscription linking the image to the parable of the Rich Man.  One such copper engraving, from 1858, was printed at the Monastery of Simonopetra on Mt. Athos in Greece:

 

Now you might think this borrowing of Western European Roman Catholic and Protestant religious imagery into Eastern Orthodox iconography might be very rare, if you are one of those with the delusion of a “pure” Eastern orthodox art.  But it was not.  In Russia and other “Orthodox” countries, and even on Mt. Athos, Western European designs were sometimes used as patterns for icons and frescos.

But now to the matter of how the Archangel Michael, who is not mentioned in the parable of the Rich Man as recorded in the Gospel of Luke, happened to end up in icons and frescos of that parable.

In Orthodox iconography, Michael came to be not only the leader of the heavenly armies, but also the one weighing souls at the Last Judgment, holding the scales that balance a man’s good deeds against the bad.  This latter concept was extended to the “weighing” of the deeds of a man at death, when the soul left the body.  So while in some iconography from the 16th to 19th century, Michael is shown in his armor and with his sword as he stands on the body of the dead man and “weighs” his deeds to determine the fate of the soul, this image also became transferred, in the early 19th century, to images based on the parable of the Rich Man, and that is the version we see in the Rila fresco, though in the Rila example the scales of the earlier form are gone.

In any case, images of Michael either standing on a “generic” dead figure or on the more specific body of the Rich Man were sometimes used on side doors of the iconostasis, primarily in the Balkans.

The theme also relates to Russian icons depicting the “Righteous Man and the Sinful Man,” showing the life and fate at death of a pious man as compared to that of his sinful counterpart.  The “death” portion is depicted in this Russian lubok, circa 1800.  At left is the death of the “Rightous Man.”  At right is the death of the “Sinful Man,” which one may compare with the type of The Archangel Michael tormenting the Rich Man.

A VERY POPULAR MARIAN IMAGE: THE “JOY OF ALL WHO SUFFER”

In a previous posting, I briefly discussed the Akathist hymn and why its component forms the kontakion and the oikos are part of basic knowledge for the study of icons because one often encounters them as texts in icons. I also mentioned that in addition to the famous “original” Akathist to Mary, there are quite a number of other akathists, not only to Mary as represented in her various icons, but also to various saints, the Guardian Angel, etc.

Today we will look at a very common example utilizing one of these akathists: the icon type known in Church Slavic as Всем скорбящим Радость — Vsem Skorbyashchim Radost — ” The Joy of All Who Suffer,” sometimes given as “The Joy of All Who Sorrow.”  In literature one often sees it in its Russian form, Всех Скорбящих Радость — Vsekh Skorbyashchikh Radost.

According to tradition, it first became noted as a supposed “miracle-working” icon in 1688.  The story is that Evfimiya, sister of Patriarch Ioachim, suffered from an incurable disease.  One day while praying, she heard a voice telling her, “Evfimiya!  Go to the Church of the Transfiguration of my son; there is the image called “Joy of All Who Suffer.”  The church was in Moscow, Evfimiy’s residence.  She followed the instructions of the voice and, the account says, was cured.

What this means for our purposes is that we should not expect icons of this type to be earlier than the end of the 17th century, when the icon first gained fame.  The “Joy of All Who Suffer” is an extremely common Marian type in the 18th and 19th centuries.

The basic image is easy to recognize.  It does, however, vary a great deal from example to example, both in the number and kind of secondary figures around Mary, and in the accompanying inscriptions and the text often found in a rectangle at the base.  So translating the texts on one example does not meet they will match those on another.

The basic image depicts Mary standing crowned in the center in an ellipse or mandorla of light. Sometimes she is alone.  In other images she may hold the crowned Christ Child on her left arm (the “Moscow” form), or he may be omitted (as in the “With Coins” variant). She often holds a scepter in her right hand, or she may gesture toward the Child.

Here is one example that includes a number of the “suffering” as well as the frequently-found angels, but in addition, four saints, and at the top the New Testament Trinity, and the images of the sun and the moon:

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

As you see, there is lots of writing on banners; these texts are usually taken (with some variation) from the Akathist to the Joy of All Who Suffer, most commonly from Kontakion 2:

Beholding the streams of wonders which pour forth from your holy icon, O most blessed Mother of God, in that you are the good helper of those who pray, the support of the oppressed, the hope of the hopeless, the consolation of those who grieve, the nourisher of the hungry, the clothing of the naked, the chastity of virgins, the guide of strangers, the assistance of those who labor, the restoration of sight to the blind, the clear hearing to the deaf, and the healing of the sick, in you we thankfully sing to God: Alleluia!

Кондак 2
Видяще токи чудес, изливаемыя от святыя Твоея иконы, благая Богородительнице, яко Ты еси молящихся благая помощница, обидимых заступница, ненадеющихся надежда, печальных утешение, алчущих кормительница, нагих одеяние, девственных целомудрие, странных наставница, труждающихся помощь, слепых прозрение, глухих благослышание, больных исцеление, благодарственне вопием о Тебе Богу: Аллилуиа.

Here is a very similar though somewhat later example:

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

The text at the bottom of this example, as in many others, is this:

We have seen it before in the discussion of the icon type called “O All-Hymned Mother.”  It is the 13th Kontakion of the Akathist prayer/hymn to Mary, the most popular Marian prayer in Eastern Orthodoxy:

О всепетая Мати, рождшая всех святых Святейшее Слово, нынешнее приношение приемши, от всяких напасти избави всех, и грядущия изми муки, вопиющия Ти: Аллилуиа

O all-hymned Mother worthy of all praise, who brought forth the Word, holiest of all Saints, as you receive this our offering, rescue us all from every calamity, and deliver from future torment those who cry with one voice, Alleluia.

As already mentioned, expect considerable variation from icon to icon of this type.  Some versions are very simple, showing only Mary, or Mary with the Christ Child; others add varying numbers of the suffering, along with angels, saints of one kind or another, and at times even a depiction of those in danger on a ship at sea.

OLD IMAGE, NEW ICONS: THE GARDEN ENCLOSED

I generally avoid using modern icons, but today’s image is an exception, not only because it is very competently painted, but primarily because it is a good example of its type:

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

It is called Вертоград заключенный — Vertograd zakliuchennuiy — “The Garden Enclosed.”

It is a pleasant type, but peculiar because it is known in old Russian painting only from the classic prototype painted in the so-called “Armory School” (Armory Palace — Оружейная палата — Oruzheinaya Palata) — of the Kremlin by Nikita Pavlovets in latter part of the 17th century (1670s).  So even though the original is often seen in icon books, this type is not one you are likely to find an actual icon of except in modern icon painting based on the old example.  So if someone offers you an “antique” icon of this type, you should immediately be suspicious.

The type is based on verse 4:12 from the Old Testament Song of Solomon (Canticle of Canticles):

A garden enclosed is my sister, my spouse; a spring shut up, a fountain sealed.”

Though it was not the original meaning, the phrase is understood in iconography as referring to the perpetual virginity of Mary.  It is likely that the original type was influenced by the motif of the Hortus inclusus (“Garden Enclosed”) found in western European Catholic art and literature from around the beginning of the 15th century.

There are several characteristics that indicate the icon above is a modern painting — a fine example of contemporary work by Diana Arkhipova.  Nonetheless, if we compare it with the original below, we can see it differs only in small details and in coloring:

As you see, it depicts Mary in a rather baroque “Paradise Garden” enclosure, richly dressed and holding the crowned Christ child, as a crown is placed on her head by angels.  The sun is at left, and the moon at right.

In both examples the title reads “Image of the Most Holy Mother of God the Garden Enclosed.”

This image is not among the supposedly “wonderworking” icons of Mary, and does not have a day of commemoration in the Church calendar.

ANOTHER DUBIOUS BUT NONETHELESS POPULAR SAINT: ONUFRIY

Here is the image portion of a Russian icon:

onufriyjacks

 

The inscription tells us this fellow is СТ АНОФРИИ ВЕЛИКИЙ.  I hope you know by now that СТ abbreviates Svyatui, meaning “Holy,” which is the Slavic term for a male saint.  The second word in the title is a little off in its spelling.  The writer wrote it as he pronounced it, but it should be written ОНУФРИЙ — Onufriy.  He is the saint the Greeks call Onouphrios (Ὀνούφριος).

The third word in the title inscription is ВЕЛИКИЙ — Velikiy — meaning “[the] Great.”  So this icon depicts “Holy Onouphrios the Great” if we use the Greek form of the name.  In Latin form it is Onuphrius.

As with many Eastern Orthodox saints, there is much uncertainty regarding Onufriy and his authenticity.  He supposedly lived in the 4th century, but that date is uncertain.  As Holweck says, the account of his life is a “medieval romance,” and it is not sure that he ever actually existed.  Someone supposedly named Paphnutios wrote the account of him, but no one is quite certain which Paphnutios this was.

The story is that Paphnutios went out into the desert to look for hermits, wanting to see if others led a more holy life than he.  After four days he came across a dead ascetic in a cave, and buried him.  Several days later he came across another cave, and a living ascetic named Timotheos, who had been in the desert 30 years.  After meeting him, Paphnutios paused at a monastery for rest, then continued his search.  After wandering again for some 17 days he came to some hills, and saw a strange figure approaching him, an ascetic with a long beard, dressed only in leaves.  The sight so frightened Paphnutios that he ran away and up a hill, but the ascetic called him back and explained that he was a hermit who formerly had been a monk in a monastery, and that he had lived alone in the desert for some 60 years.  He dwelt in a cave, living on the dates from a nearby palm, and drank water from a spring.  Onufriy regularly received the Eucharist from an angel, who conveniently showed up each Saturday and Sunday.

After a supper of bread and water that appeared miraculously in the cave at sunset, Paphnutios learned that Onufriy was about to die.  The old man said that God had brought Paphnutios to him just at that time in order to bury him.   Onufriy blessed him, and died.  After his  death Paphnutios covered Onufriy in fabric torn from his clothing, and because the ground was too hard to dig, placed his body in a gap among the rocks.

As soon as this “burial” was accomplished, the cave in which Onufriy had lived collapsed, the date palm withered, and the spring dried up.

This unconvincing tale is rather typical of hagiographic accounts of desert ascetics, but at least the names of Onufriy and Paphnutios appear to be based on actual Egyptian names.

It may seem strange to us that Eastern Orthodox believers depicted and prayed to so many saints who either never existed at all or whose lives were so heavily fictionalized that little or nothing that is certain can be said about them, but before the 20th century what the Church taught in Russia was generally just accepted without question.  The odd thing is that even now in the 21st century, when literacy is widespread and so much more is known, many still do not bother to question or investigate the long list of Eastern Orthodox saints.

Onufriy/Onouphrios/Onuphrius is considered a patron of those in captivity.  The now seldom-used English name Humphrey is a later form of Onuphrios, and his veneration was found also in the Catholic West, where he was a patron saint of weavers.

 

TIME TO MARRY: THE POKROV IMAGE

The Pokrov or “Protection of the Mother of God” is a church festival that is celebrated in Russia on October 1st.  Its origin lies in the story that in the year 902 (some say 911) c.e., the people of Constantinople gathered in the Church of the Vlakhernae (Blachernae), fearing a military invasion; some say the invaders were saracens (muslims), some say a fleet of northerners from what was then called Rus.  During the all-night prayer vigil, Андрей Юродивый — Andrei Yurodivuiy — Andrei  the “Holy Fool” — supposedly had a vision in which he saw Mary standing in the church, taking off her veil, and holding it over the congregation as a covering sign of her protection.  With her were various saints and angels.

The Vlakhernae Church was the repository for several supposed relics of Mary — her veil, her robe, and at least a portion of her belt.

The Feast of the Protection/Covering was promoted in Russia by the 12th-century Andrei Bogoliubskiy (later declared a saint), who is said to have had his own vision of Mary protecting Russia, so the Pokrov is also seen as a “national” icon.

Let’s look at the title inscription:

It reads:

ОБРАЗ ПОКРОВА ПРЕС[ВЯ]ТЫЯ Б[ОГОРОДИ]ЦЫ
The bracketed letters are those omitted by abbreviation.
Transliterated, it is:
OBRAZ POKROVA PRESVYATUIYA BOGORODITSUI

You should remember the word Obraz, meaning “image.”
Pokrova is the “of” form of Pokrov.  Pokrov means “protection,” but also “covering” or “shroud.”
Presvyatuiya, as you will recall from previous postings, is the “of” form of Presvyataya (f.), “Most Holy.”
Bogoroditsui is the “of’ form of Bogoroditsa, meaning “God-Birthgiver,” or in English order, “Birthgiver of God.”  It is the Slavic equivalent of the Greek Theotokos.  Because “Birthgiver of God” is awkward in English, it is usually loosely translated as “Mother of God.”  So, putting all of this together, the inscription reads:

” IMAGE OF [THE] PROTECTION OF [THE] MOST HOLY MOTHER OF GOD”

The Pokrov may be sparingly depicted, with only a few figures, sometimes only with Mary holding her veil; but many examples are quite detailed, such as that shown here:

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

We see Mary appearing in the air in the center of the church (it is an interior view), with apostles at left and John the Forerunner (Baptist) at right with more saints, including various Church Fathers, and above them are angels.  In this example Mary looks toward Jesus at upper left.  She holds a scroll, which the podlinniki tell us should read:

Царю небеснии сыну и боже мой приими всяаго человека призывающаго имя твое и мое на всяком месте…

Heavenly King, my son and God, receive every man who calls on your name and mine in every place…

Below, crowded between the fellow on the  ambo (dais) and the separate scene at lower right, stands the Holy Fool Andrei (Andreas/Andrew), pointing out the vision to his disciple Epifaniy (Epiphanios)

There are two odd things about the Pokrov type:  first, it is given far more importance by Russians than by Greeks.  Second, it contains scenes some four hundred years apart.

The Pokrov, as already mentioned, is said to have happened in the early 900s.  But that fellow in deacon’s garments standing on the dais at lower center is Roman (Romanos) the Melodist, called in Russia Роман Сладкопевец — Roman Sladkopevets — “Roman the Sweet-singer” —  who lived in the late 400s-early 500s c.e.  His story is that he led the singing in an all-night vigil, but after the others left he was unhappy with his talents, and prayed to have a voice worthy of singing the praises of Mary.  He fell asleep in the church and had a dream in which Mary appeared to him and gave him a scroll to eat (that is the scene at bottom right).  He awoke, and later again sang in the church, and all were amazed at his voice.  He wrote a great many church melodies with words (kontakia).

To the left of Roman stands Patriarch Tarasiy (Tarasios) of Constantinople, and to his left is the byzantine Emperor Leo VI, in whose reign the pokrov supposedly happened; and just above Leo is his wife, Empress Zoe.

Here is a rather grand rendition of the “Pokrov” icon that adds the figure of Jesus with angels and seraphim above Mary.  This example places Emperor Leo at lower left, and wife Empress Zoe at lower right.  On the church we see the five domes of a Russian-style church, and at right an additional dome on the bell tower.

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

Here is a version painted with more flatness of color and less sparkle.

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

Now we have to consider why the Pokrov was considered an important festival in Russia.  The reasons might surprise you.

First, coming in the autumn, it happened when the harvesting of crops had ended, and ordinary people finally had time for other things, chief among them weddings.  So the Pokrov marked the beginning of the “marrying season” in Russia.

This, of course, put the thought of future marriage in young girl’s heads, and so on the Pokrov they would light a candle before the icon in church.  It was said that the first girl to light her candle would be the first to marry.  Prayers were said to “Father Pokrov” (note how the festival is anthropomorphized) and Paraskeva Pyatnitsa (a patron of marriage), asking that the girl’s head might be “covered” (thus the connection with Mary covering the congregation with her veil).  But by this they were asking to be married, because married Russian women covered their hair in public.

So this concept of pokrov — of covering — took on a symbolic meaning in Russian life, and was associated with nature, because the October date of Pokrov made it the time of year with the earth began to be covered in dead leaves, and the early snow fell to protect the ground through the harshness of winter, white as the cloth covering a maiden’s head at marriage.

There is much more to be said about the Pokrov and the customs and beliefs associated with it in Russian folk life.  If such things interest you, an excellent book to read is Ivan the Fool: Russian Folk Belief, (Glas, English translation 2007) by Andrei Sinyavsky.  The book is rich in information relating to icons in Russia.

The liturgical phrase generally associated with the Pokrov is the kontakion for the feast, tone 3, generally found on the scroll held by Roman the Melodist:

“Дева днесь предстоит в Церкви, и с лики святых невидимо за ны молится Богу: ангели со архиереи покланяются, апостоли же со пророки ликовствуют: нас бо ради молит Богородица Превечнаго Бога”

“The Virgin today stands in the church, and with choirs of invisible saints prays to God for us.  Angels and bishops [literally arch-priests] venerate her, apostles with prophets rejoice, because for our sake the Mother of God prays to the God before the ages.

In icons of Roman shown alone (not Pokrov icons), the text on the scroll he holds is usually the Christmas (Nativity) kontakion, considered his first composition:

“Дева днесь Пресущественнаго раждает, и земля вертеп Неприступному приносит, Ангели с пастырьми славословят, волсви же со звездою путешествуют, нас бо ради родися Отроча Младо, Превечный Бог”.

“The Virgin today gives birth to the One Above all, and the earth offers a cave to the Unapproachable; angels with shepherds praise, and Magi journey with the star.  For our sake is born the youthful boy, God before the ages.”

The story that Mary gave Romanos a scroll to eat, after which he could sing and compose well, relates to the word for his verse/hymn form, and later to that of others as well — kontakion.  It is said to come from the Greek κόνταξ — kontax — meaning the wooden rod around which a scroll was wound.  It could thus be used to mean a scroll or a writing on a scroll, and so from the legend of the scroll Romanos supposedly ate, we get kontakion as a name for the verse/hymn form.  At least that is the supposition.

As you can see from the examples on this page, the saints and their numbers in Pokrov images vary from icon to icon of the type.

As mentioned earlier, the Pokrov is celebrated on October 1.  Further, Andrei the Holy Fool is celebrated on October 2nd, and Romanos the Melodist is celebrated on October 14th.